Shock report casts Norfok to the seas

Hundreds of homes, dozens of tourist facilities, and swathes of farmland are set to be swallowed by the sea in the next 100 years.

A Government-backed new coastal defence strategy blueprint, which redraws the coastline in a huge slice of Norfolk and north Suffolk, says controlled retreat is the only affordable and sustainable way to manage most of the region's sea-lashed shore.

It means defences being abandoned, and a handful of resort towns earmarked to have their defences strengthened will be left without beaches unless they are artificially recharged.

The shoreline management plan, drawn up by local councils working with the Government officials and conservation agencies, pulls no punches.

It warns the consequences of its recommendations "cannot be under-estimated" and urges planners to start work now on earmarking land to move people.

It means the coastline and tourist hotspots of today will change, as holiday homes, campsites, beaches and golf courses disappear.

The total value of property affected is around £250m, with the Bacton, Walcott and Ostend area suffering the worst with £65.9m worth of losses, including up to 390 homes, and Mundesley a further £48.2m, including 220 houses and 35 commercial properties.

Environmental scientist Prof Tim O'Riordan, from the University of East Anglia, who chaired a workshop on the shoreline plan at Cromer yesterday, said: "We must make a mobile and unstable coast. People should see this as an opportunity not a threat.

"Building more concrete walls will just end in tears. They are a waste of time and money. Defences only save clifftop properties - they actually destroy coastlines."

The answer lay in managing sediment movements so that eroding cliffs naturally fed beaches further along the coast.

The report - covering an area from Kelling to Lowestoft, said carrying on with the current strategy of trying to hold the line in more places would result in a fragmented shoreline made up of a series of concrete headlands, with bays in between.

In the long term, villages such as Mundesley, Happisburgh, Caister and Corton will be left to the ravages of the North Sea, albeit in a slow, managed way.

And it warns that even at big resorts to be "saved", such as Cromer, Sheringham, and Lowestoft, beaches would disappear as deepening water lapped against the defences all the time.

North Norfolk District Council's coastal manager Gary Watson, who has played a leading role in the plan, said that was unlikely to happen because of the tourism impacts. Artificial beach recharges, as happened in many Spanish resorts, would keep the sands there for bucket and spade holidaymakers.

But he warned that the cost of defending the key resorts would be high because of the huge engineering tasks involved.

The report also said the price of sea defences is set to spiral, costing up to four times their current £3m-£5m a kilometre cost.

Mr Watson said he realised the management plan would cause consternation, but that the change in policy was necessary.

There was no need to panic, as the suggested changes would not have an immediate impact.

Little would change for around 20 years while, in the short term, existing defences were maintained where economically viable.

But he added: "We have a serious problem along this coastline and we need to tackle it. I believe this is the way to go. This is a bullet that has to be bitten.

"We are well aware of the outcry this will cause, but we cannot put this problem off for the future, it needs dealing with now."

Coastal options

The shoreline management plan shows the potential housing and commercial property loss over the next 100 years.

There remains a big question mark over one area however - the Eccles to Winterton stretch behind the Sea Palling man-made reefs, which aim to stop the sea surging into the low-lying Broads.

Further detailed work is still looking at possible strategies for that area, but if nothing is done 1530 houses and 130 commercial properties could be lost by 2025 - though experts say that is unlikely to be allowed to happen.

Under the "Preferred" plan, the losses are:
2025: up to 80 houses and less than five commercial premises.
2055: between 80 and 450 houses and 80 commercial.
2105: between 450 and 1300 houses and 170 commercial.

If nothing is done:
2025: 200 houses and 20 commercial.
2055: up to 1000 houses and 300 commercial.
2105: approaching 2700 houses and 550 commercial.

Under the preferred plans, predicted implications for the following areas by the year 2105

  • Kelling Hard to Sheringham - loss of not less than five houses, farmland and part of Sheringham golf course.
  • Sheringham - no loss of property but beach disappears and lifeboat station at risk of damage
  • Sheringham to Cromer - at least 10 houses and 10 commercial properties lost, along with farmland and caravan park land.
  • Cromer - no loss of property, but beach lost and lifeboat station may need to be relocated.
  • Cromer to Overstrand - at least five commercial properties and some golf course lost.
  • Overstrand - 60 - 140 houses and up to 10 commercial properties lost, along with sewage pumping station and car park
  • Overstrand to Mundesley - 30 - 90 houses and 10 - 20 commercial properties lost, along with radar site, Trimingham church, main coast road, Vale Road beach access, caravan parks and 85 hectares of farmland.
  • Mundesley - up to 220 houses and 35 commercial properties plus sections of coast road. Beach narrows, and could be launching problems for lifeboat.
  • Mundesley to Bacton gas terminal - land loss at holiday camp and chalet park, 55 seafront properties at southern end of Mundesley, and 20 hectares of farmland.
  • Bacton gas terminal - loss of land and cliff edge buildings at risk.
  • Bacton, Walcott, Ostend - 200 - 390 seafront homes and 20-30 commercial properties, along with caravan park land.
  • Ostend to Eccles - 20 - 35 properties lost, caravan park land and 45 hectares of farmland
  • Eccles to Winterton - worst case scenarion of up to 1020 properties and 5200 hectares of farmland, plus large section of B1159 Road.
  • Winterton to Scratby - 150 seafront properties lost in Newport and Scratby plus holiday developments, tourists facilities and roads.
  • California to Caister - 70 - 130 seafront properties lost, including holiday accomodation, roads.
  • Caister - up to 50 properties lost and holiday centres / caravan parks.
  • Yarmouth - no loss of property but increased risk of defences being overtopped. Little or no beach, particularly at southern end.
  • Gorleston - no loss of property but increased risk of prom being overtopped. Very narrow beach.
  • Gorleston to Hopton - loss of some golf course.
  • Hopton - less than 20 seafront properties loast along with promenade
  • Hopton to Corton - loss of campsiteland, and 25 hectares of farmland.
  • Corton - up to 90 houses and 25 commercial properties lost along with seafront holiday sites, coast road, Methodist church, village hall and pub. School possibly at risk.
  • Corton to Lowestoft - pollution risk due to exposure of Eleni V tanker disaster oil dump.
  • Lowestoft to Ness Point - no loss of peroperty but no beach.

Homes have to be sacrificed in future

The prospect of homes falling into the sea is a reality at one Norfolk seaside village.

Happisburgh has been campaigning for years to get government funding to repair and improve its sea defences.

The new shoreline management plan, if it is adopted, would seem to destroy any hope of winning their battle by earmarking it for "managed retreat" in the longer term.

Reaction in the community to the strategy last night was a mixture of anger and renewed determination to show defences were still needed.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Happisburgh Coastal Concern Action Group, said: "I don't think it is responsible to give away swathes of our nation.

"It's not beyond the wit of man to tackle this issue with defences. What we can't contemplate is doing nothing. You cannot cast asunder these people losing their homes and livelihoods.

"We either have to have our defences replaced, or we have to have compensation. But I believe defences are possible."

The issue of financial compensation, not covered in shoreline management policy, looks set to emerge as a major issue under the new plans, as they go out to public consultation.

Di Wrightson has watched roads and chalets tumble on the clifftop from the home and bed and breakfast business she has run for 24 years.

But now it too is just 17m from oblivion, and she is geared up to move out this winter - heading inland to rented accomodation.

She attended yesterday's meeting and came away "quite angry and still fighting".

"I don't care what the academics say. You are letting down future generations."

Overstrand district councillor Angie Tillett said the plan was "a disaster".

Sea defence builders of the past had "given false hopes to our generation" but she still felt villages were worth protecting.

Council colleague Sue Willis, whose ward includes Bacton and Mundesley, said "we need some form of compensation if people are going to lose their homes and livelihoods".

Council coastal manager Gary Watson explained that sea defences interrupted natural coastal processes such as longshore drift and sediment movement - leading to a shortage of sand to feed beaches.

Longer term, the strategy would result in wide, natural sweeping beaches, while more and bigger defences could threaten the very existence of those beaches.

Prof. Tim O'Riordan said it was a "terrific step forward" that a Government was looking 100 years into the future for the first time.

He said there was no hidden agenda, and that the plan was not an excuse for lack of spending on coastal defences - where the overall budget was actually rising.

And he was encouraged by the consensus on the need for change among the agencies who have been involved in drawing up the plan.

He added: "We cannot turn the tide back, but we can work together for the best possible deal."